We recently talked with Andy Salisbury from Monolith on Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, their sequel to 2014's well-received Shadow of Mordor, coming out October 10. There has been some controversy from Lord of the Rings and Tolkien fans regarding some of the storyline decisions Monolith have made, such as turning Shelob the Spider into a sexy lady and introducing Balrogs and Dragons. We asked Andy about these decisions and he explained their lore choices, and how they were "very beholden to the Tolkien universe and the standards."
Firstly, a quick explanation of the controversy. Shelob the Spider appears once in the Lord of the Rings where she attacks Frodo and Sam and only appears as a giant spider. All through Tolkien lore, there has never been any real indication that she could be anything other than a giant spider, albeit a fiercely intelligent, ancient one. Furthermore the appearance of a Balrog or Dragon in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were both really big deals, and the idea that Sauron's minions can summon them seemingly doesn't fit in the timeline.
We asked Andy about all our concerns about the lore and how Monolith were treating it, and this is how he replied:
"We’re very beholden to the Tolkien universe and the standards. We have a Tolkien scholar on staff who vets everything! People can be defensive about the subject matter – and we agree, they should be! While we want to make the best videogame we can we’re still beholden to the Professor’s universe."
“A big source of inspiration for us wasn’t just the books but also Tolkien’s letters. He wrote the universe in great detail but also left little ellipses where other people could come and pick it up. We’re making sure we’re not taking that for granted, though. We try to adhere to the universe and its themes, which are very strong."
In particular he points out how Tolkien described the Orcs as very industrious, "and if they’re trying to rule the world they might dabble in some dark arts here and there!"
Regarding Shelob turning into a lovely witch in an evening dress, Andy said "Being one of the Maiar she totally has that power. She can decide to interact with the people of the world on her own terms." Now, the Maiar are ancient spirits in Tolkien lore that, along with the Valar, helped shaped the world. Known Maiar include Sauron, all the wizards, several Balrogs, and Shelob's mother Ungoliant. There has never really been any confirmation that Shelob is a Maiar too, but there is certainly wiggle room there for Monolith.
We're certainly going to take the side of the development house with an actual Tolkien Scholar on staff, in any event. I asked Warner Bros for a picture of their Tolkien Scholar and you can see him below.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is out on October 10. You can read our full interview with Andy here, or check out our impressions of the game - including Balrog summoning and Dragon riding - right here.